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Intergenerational Child Abuse

March 30, 2015

Are children at greater risk of being abused if their own parents were maltreated?



Tracking the roots of child abuse. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Many people assume that child abuse gets passed down through the generations. But the story is more complex than that, according to psychologist Cathy Spatz Widom of City University of New York. In the longest running and most comprehensive study of its kind, she and her colleagues tracked patterns of child abuse across three generations. They report their findings in the journal Science.

CATHY SPATZ WIDOM (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York):

One of the things that was really surprising is that we had expected that physical abuse would be passed on from one generation to the next and that was not what we found.


Instead they found that the children of parents who had themselves been maltreated were at high risk for sexual abuse and neglect. She says in order to provide families with appropriate services, child welfare agencies need to be careful not to make assumptions about abuse. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.